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UCS debates value of DPLL designation

Reps say label marginally shapes student course choices, fails to ensure engagement with issues

The Undergraduate Council of Students debated the effectiveness of the Diverse Perspectives in Liberal Learning course designation in a discussion with members of the Task Force on Diversity in the Curriculum at the UCS general body meeting Wednesday.

Dean of the College Maud Mandel, Associate Professor of Engineering and Senior Associate Dean of the Faculty Janet Blume, Professor of Economics David Weil and student representative Ryan Lee ’17 listened to feedback on the DPLL designation from general body members, who expressed a range of views on the topic.

DPLL appears on the course descriptions of certain classes on Courses@Brown, the online platform on which students register for courses. The course designation is one of various initiatives designed for “moving diversity-related intellectual questions to the center of the curriculum,” according to the task force’s charge on its website.

The designation was introduced in 2002 after a reevaluation of its predecessor, the American Minorities Perspectives courses, Mandel said. It was decided that a course label with a more global focus, as opposed to the domestically oriented model in use at the time, would better position the designation to accomplish its goal, she added.

A major concern with the current model is its lack of specificity, Mandel said. After the Ray Kelly protest in 2013, the DPLL designation went through another round of reviews. “The version they settled on is so broad that almost any class would fall under it,” she said. Under the current system, any faculty member can request that his or her course fall under the designation.

UCS Treasurer John Brewer ’17 suggested changing the way the DPLL designation relates to course offerings in order to address the fact that many students do not use it when choosing their courses. “Perhaps we can look at using this title not as just a way to find classes but as a way to create classes that bring diversity to the curriculum,” he said.

Community and Business Relations Liaison Ryan Lessing ’17 spoke similarly of DPLL’s impact on course choices. The designation is “not something that fits into” his search for courses every semester, he said.

“I use it more as a validator than a search tool,” said Chief of Staff Elena Saltzman ’16. She noted that when shopping two or more classes with similar subject matter, the DPLL designation often helps her decide which one to take.

Academic and Administrative Affairs Chair Tim Ittner ’18 expressed concerns with the concept of labeling courses in general and noted that the DPLL mark can be something more akin to the writing requirement than a promoter of diversity. “I don’t think it gets at issues of foundational knowledge,” he said. “Issues of diversity become tangential to the curriculum.”

General body member Christine Mullen ’16 agreed, raising the idea that every course could have some kind of diversity component embedded within its material.

UCS also categorized two student groups on appeal at the meeting. Brown Trading Club was constituted as a Category I group and Hospice Volunteering Club as a Category S group.


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